The day fixed for the trial of Frederick Birchill was wet, dismal, and dreary. The rain pelted intermittently through a hazy, chilly atmosphere, filling the gutters and splashing heavily on the slippery pavements. But in spite of the rain a long queue, principally of women, assembled outside the portals of the Old Bailey long before the time fixed for the opening of the court. At the private entrance to the courthouse arrived fashionably-dressed ladies accompanied by well-groomed men. They had received cards of admission and had seats reserved for them in the body of the court. Many of them had personally known the late Sir Horace Fewbanks, and their interest in the trial of the man accused of his murder was intensified by the rumours afloat that there were to be some spicy revelations concerning the dead judge’s private life.
The arrival of Mr. Justice Hodson, who was to preside at the trial, caused a stir among some of the spectators, many of whom belonged to the criminal class. Sir Henry Hodson had presided at so many murder trials that he was known among them as “the Hanging Judge.” Among the spectators were some whom Sir Henry had put into mourning at one time or another; there were others whom he had deprived of their bread-winners for specified periods. These spectators looked at him with curiosity, fear, and hatred. Mr. Holymead, K.C., drove up in a taxi-cab a few minutes later, and his arrival created an impression akin to admiration. In the eyes of the criminal class he was an heroic figure who had assumed the responsibility of saving the life of one of their fraternity. The eminent counsel’s success in the few criminal cases in which he had consented to appear had gained him the respectful esteem of those who considered themselves oppressed by the law, and the spectators on the pavement might have raised a cheer for him if their exuberance had not been restrained by the proximity of the policeman guarding the entrance.
When the court was opened Inspector Chippenfield took a seat in the body of the court behind the barrister’s bench. He ranged his eye over the closely-packed spectators in the gallery, and shook his head with manifest disapproval. It seemed to him that the worst criminals in London had managed to elude the vigilance of the sergeant outside in order to see the trial of their notorious colleague, Fred Birchill. He pointed out their presence to Rolfe, who was seated alongside him.